Art, Behind the Scenes

Why? Because the Pig in the Painting Said So!

As a kid I was sure if I could be alone with works or art, in or out of museums—ditch the parents, teachers, and guards—that the works of art would talk to me. I assessed hiding places, considered alarm systems.

With some privacy, the artwork would finally have a truly appreciative audience: moi. Take a statue of a gorilla in San Diego, for example. Surely it had some feedback for an overly enthusiastic visitor?

Me, giving a sculpture a gorilla hug in the 1970s

Me, giving a sculpture a gorilla hug in the 1970s

In that spirit, I wrote an audio tour for kids, families, and anyone else with a sense of fun who wants to get acquainted with a few animals in the Getty Museum’s permanent collection. Take a closer peek at some paintings, and works in ceramic, wood, and bronze. Your tour guides? The critters themselves, who tell it “straight from the horse’s mouth.” Or lion’s. Or pig’s.

They share tidbits about who made them, when, where, why, or how. Two carved wooden lions holding up an Italian linen chest, for example, complain they’re separated at either end thanks to a centuries-old “time out.”

The voices are created by Nick Smith, a local stand-up comedian and voice-over artist. Though I’ve usually laughed at his political impersonations in comedy clubs, here he brings the Getty’s creatures to life with voices that are goofy, bossy, or menacing.

One tiny pig stands on its hind legs at the bottom corner of a grand Renaissance painting. He couldn’t care less about the kings who are front and center. Instead he’s just desperate to get St. Anthony’s attention, so he squeals his lines in pesky, stream-of-consciousness style. (The sound recordist broke professional demeanor and laughed out loud when Nick read multiple takes of that one.) In post-production we sped up his voice to make him sound even more hyper, and added music and sound effects.

Unlike many art historians, the animals are not opposed to some juicy gossip, either. A painted hare in the forest boasts about his lovely, thick fur, but confides, between mouths of grass, that the emperor who commissioned him was bald and a little crazy.

If you’re in the mood, no matter who’s around, these animals will talk to you, too. I promise.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted May 26, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    What a delightful idea for kids! I was at the Getty a few years ago. Honestly, one of the highlights of my life as an artist! My son (8 at the time) had a question about the centuries old calligraphy that was displayed. He simply asked the nearest adult, a security guard. Warm and engaging, the guard replied that he, too, would like to know the answer, and went to retrieve a docent. She was so eloquent and explained it beautifully. My son has never forgotten the experience, and neither have I! For both kids and grown-ups….Getty ROCKS! :)

  2. Scott
    Posted May 30, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    I think the statue you’re hugging is Mbongo at the San Diego Zoo.

    http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM8CPG_Mbongo_San_Diego_CA

  3. Nina
    Posted May 31, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Mbongo and I appreciate you speaking up on his behalf, Scott! Plus, I can now date that photo to a trip my family took to San Diego for a reunion. Thank you.

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      This is a portrait of a prisoner.

      A political prisoner at the time of the Reign of Terror in France, Andre-Antoine Bernard here is posed and styled with severity and strength. He was eventually exiled for voting to execute Louis XVI. But this defiant portrait lives on.

      Portrait of Andre-Antoine Bernard, July 24, 1795, Jacques-Louis David. J. Paul Getty Museum.

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